Alberta court dismisses constructive dismissal claim against CNRL, cites lack of objective evidence from IT worker who quit

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A former employee in the IT department at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) was not constructively dismissed, the Court of King’s Bench for Alberta has ruled.

The judge found that the claimant, KF, failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his allegations of a hostile work environment and unilateral changes to the terms of his employment.

Timing not an issue

The plaintiff handed in his resignation letter on Oct. 31, 2018, giving two weeks’ notice, effective Nov. 15, 2018. The case was initiated on Nov. 8, 2020, which was two years and eight days after limitation had started — and CNRL argued it exceeded the statutory limitation period.

However, the court ruled that the action was within time, citing a 75-day ministerial suspension that affected the Limitations Act.

High threshold for constructive dismissal

The court applied the Potter test for constructive dismissal, which involves determining whether an employer unilaterally changed the contract in a manner detrimental to the employee.

This test also assesses whether the employer’s conduct would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the employer no longer intended to be bound by the terms of the contract.

Lack of unilateral change

According to the court’s findings, there was no unilateral change in the terms of KF’s employment. He had worked for CNRL for over seven years before his resignation and claimed that the issues began after a new supervisor took over in February 2018.

However, the judge stated that the evidence suggested nothing more than a “clash of personalities,” dismissing it as insufficient to establish constructive dismissal.

“Even ‘clash’ may be an overstatement,” the court said.

Allegations of harassment

KF alleged instances of harassment and ill-treatment, such as his supervisor slapping his hand on the desk during meetings and making after-hours requests.

However, the court stated that these allegations had to be assessed on an objective basis. It found that there was very limited detail regarding the supervisor’s alleged misconduct, preventing an objective assessment of the complaints.

“On the evidence now before the court, it appears (KF) simply did not respect his superior in terms of his knowledge, or qualifications, or his ability to manage or supervise the projects that (KF) was working on in the IT department,” the court said, noting that KF was far-and-away the most qualified and highly educated member of the department at the time.

Resignation and misassumptions

KF resigned from CNRL in October 2018, apparently under the mistaken assumption that he could transition to contract work with the company — a transition that never materialized. CNRL argued that his issues at work were largely due to his behavior, which they described as “habitually defensive and condescending to colleagues.”

Ruling

In the end, the judge concluded that the claim for constructive dismissal was “apparently without merit” based on the evidence presented. The application for summary dismissal by CNRL was allowed, effectively dismissing the worker’s claim.

For more information, see Fakhri v Canadian Natural Resources Limited, 2023 ABKB 483 (CanLII)

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